For two decades my public policy practice has represented individuals, organizations and companies in opposing grid-scale renewable-energy projects. My initial and lasting counsel to all such clients is to avoid being labeled “NIMBY” by basing the opposition on a sober comparison of a project’s pros and cons, in which the cons (drawbacks) empirically exceed the pros (benefits).

Wind turbines tower over the landscape at the Stetson wind farm in the eastern Maine town of Danforth in 2010. Prior to the regulatory review process for the King Pine wind farm in Aroostook County, critics of NECEC had already come out in favor of the northern Maine project’s support. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, File

I did represent an intervenor in the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect proceedings. My client was against the NECEC power line, until it later switched positions when satisfied that the benefits finally exceeded the drawbacks. Notably, after detailed and prolonged scrutiny of that project, every regulatory or permitting body agreed.

I mostly sat on the sidelines when the NECEC opposition took their hysterical (losing) arguments to statewide referendum. And I glumly shook my head when – predictably – the roused rabble overturned the project.

Fast forward a few months to a new power line proposal, the King Pine wind farm (“Northern Maine wind power project wins PUC approval January,” Jan. 31). The Press Herald story quotes the most vociferous opponent of NECEC, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, as already supporting the Aroostook County project.

So why the odd whimper instead of a bang, after NRCM’s hair was so recently on fire about NECEC? The two power lines are mostly comparable, considering factors like physical size, impact and transmission capacity. But the respective pro/con analyses are monumentally disparate.

NECEC connects to a 24/7 clean power source that has no physical impact on Maine, or America.


The Aroostook line would exist for connecting to a proposed largest eastern U.S. wind facility, with 179 skyscraping gyros spattered across hilltops in Katahdin’s dooryard, and which can be relied upon to unpredictably generate power a total of no more than three days of every seven.

NECEC and its relatively inconspicuous poles will be 100% paid by Massachusetts. Maine ratepayers would pay $1 billion for the lower-benefit Aroostook line.

NECEC is contracted for a low and stable power price. While the price per kilowatt-hour in the Aroostook case is still secret, its proponents and the Public Utilities Commission assure us that “it’ll be worth it in the long run.” How many times before have we heard that banality?

As it methodically garnered support from dozens of stakeholders, many of whom had initially opposed the project, NECEC wound up delivering a broad array of additional benefits for Maine, including unprecedented advances in reducing Maine’s primary sources of harmful emissions: transportation and heating.

Prior to any regulatory review process, most of the hollow-cored NECEC opponents had already come out in fawning support of the high-impact Aroostook project, which promises to grow even more massive as Aroostook is connected to the grid. Bear in mind that a wind facility can only be expected to yield one-third of its rated generating capacity. That means we would actually need three of these behemoth facilities to do what NECEC can do, albeit only when the wind blows.

As Maine and New England pursue beneficial electrification, we will need a lot of power. It’s easy to justify developing five or six NECEC-ish transmission lines in the next decade. Each one will have to prove that its benefits exceed its impacts. But not so for tax haven wind energy generation projects, and that’s how we get feel-good public policy driven by powerful political entities whose interests don’t align with the true public interest.

The hollow and broken advocacy on display in the NECEC and Aroostook cases is ordinarily laughable. But given the potential horror to Maine’s signature quality of place and Maine’s fragile economy, nobody should be laughing.

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